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Slaw Article on Law Librarians' Contributions to Legal Research Products

02 Apr 2017 2:34 PM | Michel-Adrien Sheppard (Administrator)

CALL member Sarah Sutherland wrote a few days ago on Slaw.ca about the many contributions Canadian law librarians have made over the years to the creation of some of our most important legal research tools.

In particular, she reminds readers of how law librarians (through CALL) pretty much saved the Canadian Abridgment, a commercial product.

They were also instrumental in the founding of the Index to Canadian Legal Literature, another commercial product.

But in the context of the multiplication of new publishing platforms for legal information (e.g. CanLII Connects, scholarly blogs) and questions about access to justice, Sutherland does ask about

"the wisdom of CALL members contributing free labour to a commercial product that is not available to many of the people who most need access to legal information (...)"

And, as she writes, could it be that what makes us really awesome at our jobs may actually hinder the development and flourishing of new platforms?:

"As part of their professional ethos, law librarians (and to some degree librarians generally) have looked to certain markers of authority and quality in information sources that these sources may not have: famous authors, bibliographic access points such as indexes and tables of contents, authoritative publishers, and professional editing. This may lead them to undermine these new sources that have so much potential to make the Canadian legal information landscape more accessible."

Sutherland mentions such products or projects as Clicklaw Wikibooks (Courthouse Library of British Columbia) and Osgoode Digital Commons (Osgoode Law School Library) as examples of valuable new contributions to the dissemination of legal information.

According to Sutherland, it should not be one or the other (expensive online subscription databases that lock out "average" citizens vs. free online resources for the masses).

Of course, the big question is: where will the money come from for new sustainable publishing endeavours that are high quality, accessible and cheap?

Gary Rodrigues, who has extensive senior level experience in the Canadian legal information publishing, offers one intriguing suggestion in the comments section below Sutherland's article.

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